In times when I find my mind is agitated – from world events or inner turmoil – I find it useful to give myself more room and a more physical way for the agitation to move through the body. Then I may be able to settle into a sitting meditation.
Talk about Walking
Where am I going? I’m goingby Philip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. Viking Press, 1999.
out, out for a walk. I don’t
know where except outside.
Outside argument, out beyond
wallpapered walls, outside
wherever it is where nobody
ever imagines. Beyond where
computers circumvent emotion,
where somebody shorted specs
for rivets for airframes on
today’s flights. I’m taking off
on my own two feet. I’m going
to clear my head, to watch
mares’-tails instead of TV,
to listen to trees and silence,
to see if I can still breathe.
I’m going to be alone with
myself, to feel how it feels
to embrace what my feet
tell my head, what wind says
in my good ear. I mean to let
myself be embraced, to let go
feeling so centripetally old.
Do I know where I’m going?
I don’t. How long or far
I have no idea. No map. I
said I was going to take
a walk. When I’ll be back
I’m not going to say.
Walking meditation is one way of bringing mindfulness of the body into an activity many of us do regularly in daily life. (Note for those who may have limited mobility, the comments below can be applied to whatever movement you are able to engage in – please adapt as suits your body.)
There are a few styles of mindful walking as a formal practice. I’ll list a couple of options you could try and adapt to your temperament and situation.
The first walking meditation I learned, in the context of a retreat, involved:
- Find a place you can walk 15-30 steps, in a place that’s relatively quiet and with not a lot of non-meditators around. We choose a short distance because we’re not trying to get anywhere. This also gives us more bandwidth to attend to the walking experience rather than deciding where to go.
- Stand at the starting point and notice that you are standing. Feel the weight on you feet, the muscles supporting you.
- Begin to walk, usually a bit slower than usual, and tune into the sensory experience of the movements.
- Sometimes it’s useful to zoom the attention into the soles of the feet – the lifting, moving, placing of the foot. We might even make a soft mental note of this, to help keep the attention focused. We can also expand the attention to include the muscles and bones in the feet and legs. Or we may also attune to the sense of the whole body moving.
- The eyes are open, but usually kept downcast and with a soft gaze. We want to safely move through the space, but allow the attention to focus on the physical sensations rather than sights.
- When we get to the end of the designated path, we can pause, then turn around (feeling the sensations of turning). This is a good place to recommit to the intention to be mindful of the walking experience.
- Like in any meditation, our attention will drift, and when we notice, we welcome the attention back and return to the sensations of the body.
- We can experiment with changing the pace. I often find that as I get more settled, my pace naturally slows. Other times, especially if I am feeling sleepy, it helps if I walk a little faster.
- You can read some walking instructions adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn here:
This style of meditation is very useful for developing continuity of mindfulness because we have a short path to stay with the practice. But if I’m in a public place with lots of traffic and/or other pedestrians, I tend to be shy about doing this.
So another way we can practice is to walk normally, but turning the attention to the physical sensations that arise while walking – to the mailbox or across a parking lot or along a path in a park. I do this style of meditation most days, especially when I’m walking my dogs at night.
- Walk at a normal pace, or maybe the slightest bit slower to help the mind remember that we’re walking mindfully right now. (That doesn’t always work when walking my dog Reece!)
- Tune into the sensations of the body. For me, I tend to start with the feeling of the feet – weight shifting from one foot to the other, in a rhythmic pattern. My arms and hands (if not hanging onto a leash or a waste bag) will often swing in time. The hips sway, the lungs and belly move with the body and breath.
- Again, it’s useful to have a soft gaze – eyes open and attentive to the whole visual field, rather than staring at people or sights.
- The attention will drift. When we notice, we welcome the attention back and recommit again to attending to the sensations of walking.
- Bodhipaksa has a guided walking meditation in this style, which you can find in the Insight Timer app or website, or on the website associated with one of his books (Meditation 3: Walking Meditation).
We can do short informal walking practices throughout the day – setting an intention to be fully present when walking from the house to the car, or from the bedroom to the kitchen, etc. Noticing the way the weight shifts between legs, swinging the arms, breath and heartbeat changing with the effort, the feeling of fabric on the skin, temperature of the air, if only for a few paces, can help the mind break from habitual patterns and reconnect to the body.
I appreciated the many daily activities people shared on the blog or by email as they would be using as a way to practice mindfulness in a daily activity. I invite you to set an intention to have a mindful walking activity, and if you like, share that too! Feel free to post a comment here or send me an email.
May each step bring you ease,